Capital T Theatre's Small Mouth Sounds
This hilarious and moving production reveals near deafening truths with barely a sound
Reviewed by T. Lynn Mikeska, Fri., May 25, 2018
The function and purpose of language can be a double-edged sword. While no sane person would ever argue that words aren't incredibly useful, language can sometimes be (with apologies to Noam Chomsky and Geoffrey Leech) more of a barrier than a bridge. Let's start with the fact that there are around 6,500 different languages spoken around the world, so from culture to culture, there's already a metric tonne of room for someone to habe nicht verstanden. Even when we grow up speaking in our native tongues for decades upon decades, our daily lives remain a constant struggle to find just the right word in our respective lexicons that carries just the right semantic slant to express ourselves, influence others, color our interactions, connect with folks, and generally (as well as literally) navigate planet Earth.
But so often, the big moments – the ones that change and shape us, the ones where we discover deep, cosmic truths about ourselves and the world around us – happen in complete silence. Self-actualization is less accompanied by resounding shouts of "Eureka!" and "A-ha!" than it is by quiet reflection and meditation. In moments of great joy, expansive love, overwhelming grief, burning rage, and unimaginable beauty, we can lose language altogether. And then something magical happens.
When something transcends language, it can sometimes be better – as well as more universally – understood.
Enter Small Mouth Sounds, a monumental play written by Bess Wohl that presents a story about six people at a spiritual retreat that is performed in near silence. Mostly. In Capital T Theatre's latest offering, genius actors Zac Thomas, Rebecca Robinson, Ellie McBride, Jason Phelps, Delante G. Keys, Theresa Baldwin, and Katherine Catmull (under the purposeful eye of veteran director Mark Pickell) embark on a voiceless voyage to enlightenment that is anything but Zen.
Because of the nature of this particular vein of storytelling (and because you really should see this hilarious and moving show), recounting actual plot points feels a bit like spoiling the story. Part of the delight you'll experience with Small Mouth Sounds is watching characters both silently reacting to stimuli/situations and attempting communication. In doing so, each of these truth seekers shows you exactly who they are, where they come from, and what they long for.
The production design mirrors the language of the play. A sleek, minimalist set (designed by Pickell and Thomas, who deserve serious ups for transforming Hyde Park Theatre's iconic space into something completely different and unexpected) composed of a wooden floor and risers seems almost too sparse, until you look a little closer and see stylized overhanging branches and painstaking woodwork. It puts you in the right headspace for what's ahead – that you're going to have to focus on the details a little more closely than you normally world. Patrick Anthony and Lowell Bartholomee complete the evening with light and sound design, respectively, that appear exactly when it's essential – which perfectly punctuates a night of near-deafening truths told in near silence.
And speaking of silence, it is with this review that I take my leave of The Austin Chronicle and set out for new adventures. I wish I could effectively express my gratitude to the Austin theatre community for all that you've given me and that I could tell you all how much joy, love, hope, comfort, and juicy groovycool goodness I'm taking with me because of you. However, when I think on it, all of these emotions fill my chest, and then my throat, and I am left completely without words. All I can do is say thank you, and hope it will suffice.
Small Mouth SoundsHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd
Through June 16
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.